Outside, milling under the ubiquitous gaze of security cameras, are bright splashes of colorful souls wearing crystals, beads, and Native American Indian paraphernalia; middle-aged academics with "Erowid" drug website t-shirts; and passengers that give you that odd conspiratorial smile that says, "yes, we are here for the conference." And here we are chowing down on McDonalds and donut King, getting our last hits of civilization before hitting the jungle city of Iquitos and shamanic boot camp. It feels like some whacked-out reality TV show, a generational snapshot of a new psychedelic wave just before it breaks. Bright-eyed Westerners about to die and be reborn in the humid jungles of Peru, drinking the hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca...
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Ayahuasca ceremonies are usually very structured rituals where the shaman or shamana holds the space and guides the drinkers on their journeys of discovery. The shaman is not just administering the hallucinogenic brew; he or she is also calling in their allies, banishing evil spirits, and safeguarding their immediate physical environment-playing the role of psychic bouncer. And while personalities vary, the role of the shaman in anchoring the physical and spiritual worlds is inviolate, and should be treated with respect.
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Ayahuasca is a fickle mistress-she likes it when you put out for her, make a show of it, and put some effort in. But ayahuasca is also a plant medicine, and as such she reads you and what you need, and that changes every time, both as you progress on the path and as new issues come to light. Like a high maintenance girlfriend, the relationship with 'aya' can be hard work, but the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices.
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One must always be careful, for the art of shamanism is fueled by the power of the will, interacting with the power of the plants. And it seems all too easy for some shamans to warp that power to dark ends, to the 'shamachismo' that can drive them to serve selfish ego desires. Power corrupts, and the spirit world can corrupt absolutely if it's not approached from a perspective of openness and servitude.
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I mightn't be a shaman in the indigenous sense, but as a world-bridger between Western culture and the indigenous world, I knew I was playing a shamanistic role. Language was my medicine and with it I would do my best to record my awakening and help heal with my words... The journey isn't over yet.
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It is true ayahuasca that has the potential to change everything and allow you to see the world in a different way. It's just that from within the perspective of the person undergoing the changes it's also hard to discern which bits are fantasy and which bits are oracular insight. That's part of what the shaman is supposed to be there to help you figure out.
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Ayahuasca can heal, but it an also be used to kill, ' Carlos continues to translate for Juan... The key is remaining humble, being a servant of ayahuasca, not a master. 'Give yourself to the benefit of others, to God, ' Juan says, his eyes daring over us, reading our energies. 'You must have a purpose to help other people, a desire to hep others. If you have a pure heart, a humble mind, and faith in your soul-then the Science will open up to you and show you its wonders.
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The sound of his purging next to me, long and deep and often was like a backbeat throughout the night. He's been wrestling with visions of the spirit world, alien landscapes like inverted Photoshop jungle lakes, plants merging into the sky and insects and beasts alive with the sweat and pulse of life, all of us cuaght up in a genomic swirl.
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Are you seeing Jesus yet? Eric the ayahuasca virgin asks me this morning over a late brunch at the Yellow Rose... We're trading visions like trading card stats, comparing our different curanderos and gossiping like schoolgirls while the street vendors and fabric hustlers stand around by the dozen... 'Am I becoming like Jesus would probably be a better way to explain it, ' I respond, and it's true. I feel like I'm walking on water. The aftermath of the ayahuasca experience is glorious: I feel lighter, clearner, like a hard drive that's been defragged and all my pathways are re-linked up to each other, whole, and able to express joy once again. This is what it fees like to be healed, my whole body radiates from the inside-out.
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The poor are so common they're invisible, just part of the ambience of this place. I tuck a few soles under them as they sleep and walk off, feeling like a guilty tourist here for thrillseeking in a culture that's trying desperately to survive. Can shamanism help them? I wonder, as I make my way back to the hostel by moonlight.
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what science cannot explain is the psychic effect of this 'mother of all plants, ' the sense of the numinous and the spiritual world it reportedly opens up. Those who drink say that each ayahuasca journey is unique. They say that the spirit of the vine comes alive, it guides and teaches, and on the other side nothing is ever the same. Or so they say.
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